30 January 2010

Liverpool 2-0 Bolton

Carragher Skrtel Kyrgiakos Insua
Aquilani Mascherano
Gerrard Kuyt Riera

Kuyt 37’
K Davies (og) 70’

Strong opening play from Liverpool, where we saw a slight alteration to the tactics, soon frighteningly led to few openings and the best chance for the opposition, which has become an awful case of déjà vu this season. When Lee, with Insua caught upfield, ran past three retreating defenders and Reina, he looked like putting Bolton ahead in the 24th. But Kyrgiakos smartly retreated to the goal line, where he was fortunately placed to clear Lee’s shot.

And by the 30th minute, Liverpool had reestablished control in an increasingly open game. Like against Spurs, it was Aquilani to Kuyt that led to the opener. A lofted cross-field ball found Insua in space, cleverly crossing to the back post. Aquilani won a strong header over Knight to put the chance on a plate for Kuyt, stabbing in despite Cahill on the line. You could feel the relief around Anfield through the television.

Despite a chance immediately after the goal, Ngog getting into the box only to shoot straight at Jaaskelainen, Bolton upped the pressure for the rest of the half as Davies started to win a few headers. Lee earned a yellow for diving in the 44th, looking for a penalty after splitting two defenders to get into the area, before Taylor lost Carragher at the back post, only to shoot into the side netting when the cross took him too wide.

That Bolton started the second half similarly was obviously depressing. Thankfully, it lasted about five minutes, after which they basically capitulated to a better Liverpool team. Two breaks in quick succession in the 51st and 53rd should have led the much-needed second goal. First, Mascherano stormed down the left and seemingly released Gerrard with an inch-perfect cross, only to see Mark Davies get back in time. Two minutes later, Mascherano found Riera up the same flank, with Jaaskelainen saving Gerrard’s shot from the centered ball, while Ngog could only stab the rebound off the frame of the goal when it looked easier to score.

Better play, in which Jaaskelainen saved another good Gerrard effort, finally saw a fortuitous second. Bolton were unable to clear a corner well-won by Carragher, and Insua’s low shot took a massive deflection off Kevin Davies. The Anfield announcer credited the diminutive left back with his second for the club, but I’m fairly certain it’ll go down as an own goal.

That strike took all the pressure off Liverpool, and they were able to comfortably see out the final 20 minutes in which the away side never threatened. That Bolton took off Muamba for a second striker, removing Gerrard’s shadow, allowed the captain to drive forward and influence play far more in the last 10 minutes, and it was slightly surprising to see the decent pressure not lead to a third. But we can’t be greedy. Babel’s entrance, for Ngog in the 84th, should signal Babel’s return to the fold and that there’ll be no more business in this transfer window. Otherwise, I’m sure it would have been Pacheco.

Today’s was only the second league game in which Lucas didn’t start, along with the 2-1 win over Wigan six weeks ago. Only Reina and Kuyt have started more. And I’m sure it’s coincidence the respite comes after arguably his worst performance of the season on Tuesday.

It led to some different tactics. Including both Aquilani and Ngog took some of the pressure off Gerrard, who was man-marked by Muamba just as in the last meeting. The captain ostensibly started on the right, looking to create gaps by dragging Muamba out wide, but it only lasted about 10 minutes, although the line of three continued to switch at times. The additional attacking impetus from Aquilani did create some space for Stevie, and the Italian did excellently to assist on the opener, but was also clearly trying too hard at times. Of course, better to be trying too hard than not at all.

And while it’ll give Lucas haters some more ammunition, it’s the plan I expected when Aquilani signed, which finally shows Benitez is comfortable with the Italian’s fitness – at the same time key players like Gerrard and Riera are looking fitter. We might see the same midfield against Everton, as it’s at Anfield, but I’m sure we’ll get Lucas and Mascherano at the Emirates in 11 days. Plus, Lucas looked tidy in his 25-minute cameo, clearly to fortify the midfield with the lead, and the second goal wasn’t long after his entrance.

You can’t underestimate the captain’s vast improvement; Gerrard was Liverpool’s best player along with Mascherano and Kyrgiakos. Never disheartened despite Muamba perpetually in his path, he was active in trying to find openings wherever possible and clearly looked to exploit the space in the final minutes. A goal would have been deserved too, with Jaaskelainen making two good saves. His progress was the biggest catalyst for Liverpool’s increased attacking cohesion.

But, again, special mention should also be made for Masch and Kyrgiakos. Mascherano was unsurprisingly excellent patrolling the midfield. Kyrgiakos battled the difficult Davies step for step. And the defense deserves its third successive clean sheet – both Carragher and Insua were tested but didn’t break, and both (even Carra and especially Insua) asked questions in the opposition half.

This was a performance more in the vein of Spurs than Wolves. It was what we wanted to see, and should definitely boost morale, but I’ll wait to be even more optimistic after so many false dawns. The upcoming stretch of games is brutal – v Everton, at Arsenal, v Unirea, at City, and at Unirea. We’ll know much more about what kind of corner may or may not have been turned during it.


Abhiram said...

Good game. Aquilani played well but as you said nate he tried too hard. I also want to mention Lucas here though. As soon as he came on, i felt we were more in control of the game. He moved forward with ease as he was not very tired. Maybe this can be our game plan. Subbing Aquilani or Macher for Lucas every game around the 60 min mark.... unless Lucas's starting of-course...

Marlon said...

We've discussed this before, but Insua plays best with Riera in front of him.

Well done Stevie. Good to see him playing well again.

Mike Georger said...

I was cursing Insua up and down when he fluffed that pass at the start. But after that, his crossing was insane. He obviously has tons of ability, hopefully his inconsistency is just a product of youth, I mean he did just turn 21 last week.

Masche's passing was great, the cross field to Stevie made it move.

Eccleston scored the winner a few minutes into his debut for Huddersfield today, fyi.

steven. said...

Insua always looks good going forward but much like Johnson, it's his defending that concerns me ..

without his attacking ability (he's no slouch with the ball at his feet either) his usefulness would be null and void ..

Mike Georger said...

One of the liverpool forums is reporting that Buchtmann has been sold to Fulham for 100k and Adam Pepper is about to get lost to Everton. If either of those are true, considering they're our top academy prospects, shit is hitting the fan behind the scenes.

nate said...

Only thing I know is Malcolm Elias, former director of the Academy, is now at Fulham. Hence their chase of Della Valle last summer.

Something's going on with Pepper - he's been rumored to Everton for a few months - but Buchtmann is disconcerting news.

Mike Georger said...

The rumor says 100k though. Unless we thought he had no future, that makes no sense.

Pepper is in his last academy year and I don't think he's been playing much due to injury, who knows.

Mike Georger said...

Looking like he's gone. Rick Parry still running shit it seems.

drew said...

Buchtmann is well known round the clubs here for loving a night out, he's been given several chances to rein it in and hasn't. I can't imagine a move to London will help with that but it won't be our problem anymore trying to keep him squandering his talent. (We had the same problems with Marvin Pourie a while back, maybe we ought to bring Hamann round to give any further German lads a slap on the head.)

A shame because he really is a fine prospect, needs to put on muscle but again that's down to hard work in the weight room which isn't really his thing. Also they've been getting Mavinga out at left back and he could work out to be just as good, certainly much more athletic.

Pepper on the other hand--that is a hard one to figure; he has been hurt but there are deeper concerns at the club apparently about his size and if he will be able to handle a Premiership midfield. And then apparently there are others in the club who think that's bollocks and he'll do just fine with games under his belt.

It is certain that there's some sort of turf war continuing to work its way through the Academy; the reserves and u18's are doing decently this year and there's still loads of talent. But we've got to do something about the Elias connection or else we'll lose LDV and Amoo to him as well.

nate said...

Cheers drew, thanks for the insight.

Still hope there's a massive sell-on clause, and buy-back clause, in that deal.

Mike Georger said...

Yep he's gone.

This stupid club.

/Mayor Quimby'd